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Are you empowered to demand your rights?

The government provides basic infrastructure like roads, hospitals, and schools and delivers welfare benefits. These are ‘supply side’ activities, and are expected to satisfy citizens’ needs. But what can citizens do if government services do not satisfy their needs? They need to demand their rights to improve governance.

According to the authors of The Paradox of India’s North-South Divide: Lessons from the States and Regions, citizens can exert pressure on the government in three ways:

  • by becoming aware of their rights and fighting governance failure;
  • by building organizations that enable people and communities to demand and monitor supply-side interventions; and
  • by providing organizational support that helps counteract or prevent government abuse.

Citizens’ awareness and empowerment is key.

In Tamil Nadu (TN) this demand factor has helped in development through education, awareness of rights and motivation to take advantage of public opportunities. The Dravidian movement that started in TN aimed at providing opportunities to all people without bias. It worked on educating the masses and on eradicating superstition. Movements for social mobilization have existed in TN since the early 20th century, but took place in Uttar Pradesh (UP) in the late 1980s, when the Dalits under the leadership of the Bahujan Samaj Party decided to give up their traditional livelihood of performing ‘unclean’ jobs.

In South India, social and community-based associations helped lower caste people start their own ventures and enterprises. The Nadars, Gounders and Naidus of Southern and South-western India are examples of lower caste entrepreneurs. In UP, Baniyas and Vaishyas have a monopoly on trade, industry, and money-lending activities; the lower castes have remained backward.

Historically and currently, then, more citizens in South India than North India are aware of their rights and empowered to demand these from the government.

How empowered do you feel in your state?

Devika Kannan is a  Programme Officer at Public Affairs Centre

Post Author: Devika Kannan